Drug & Alcohol Addiction Treated by This Anti-Hypertensive Drug? Study Reveals Promising Results

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Jun 24, 2015 08:13 AM EDT

DORCHESTER, MA - APRIL 11: Dr. Elizabeth Maziarka reads a blood pressure gauge during an examination of patient June Mendez at the Codman Square Health Center April 11, 2006 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is scheduled to sign a health care reform bill April 12 that would make it the first state in the nation to require all its citizens have some form of health insurance. (Photo : Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat high blood pressure could also be used to stop cocaine and alcohol addiction. If the new treatment could be proven successful in human clinical trials, it would be the first type of treatment that could prevent addiction relapse.

Scientists from the University of Texas at Austin experimented with the medication, called isradipine, to stop cocaine and alcohol addiction and potentially prevent relapse by wiping out memories that contribute to substance fixation. The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

For the study, Morikawa and colleagues conditioned lab rats to associate a black or white room with the use of a drug. When the rats are given the choice of going into either of the rooms, the critters mostly chose the one they associated with their addiction.

The researchers then gave the rats high doses of the drug isradipine which is sold under the name DynaCirc, according to UPI. During the day, the rats chose their preferred addiction room, but lost their preference a few days after. The researchers noted that the lack of preference continued on in the following days in the isradipine-treated rats "in ways that couldn't be found in a control group." This suggested that the addiction-related memories had been completely wiped out.

"The isradipine erased memories that led them to associate a certain room with cocaine or alcohol," said Hitoshi Morikawa, lead author and associate professor of neuroscience at the university, via a press release.

Scientists have long believed that addictive substances are tied to memories and habits, apart from physical cravings. The researchers found that blocking the specific kind of ion channel expressed in heart, blood vessels and certain brain cells with the drug isradipine can suppress the memories of addiction.

"Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted. Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted," Morikawa explained.

He added that since isradipine is already FDA approved, meaning it is safe for human use, conducting experiments on the drug for this kind of approach could go more smoothly compared to drugs that are not yet approved.

According to Morikawa, there might be downsides to using isradipine in high doses since it is originally used to treat high blood pressure. He adds that it may be necessary to combine it with other medication so that blood pressure may not fall dangerously low, according to the Benchmark Reporter.

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